Monday, August 4, 2014

Paths of Glory

World War I began a century ago. In memory of this extraordinary event -- it shaped the twentieth century, and in many ways we are still living in its shadow -- by dedicated this month on the Dynamo and the Virgin to the Great War.

I usually enjoy a good war game on Friday evenings. It is a good way for me to unwind after a tough week at work. This week it was Paths of Glory (POG), Ted Racier's classic card-given game on World War I published by GMT games. Prior to the publication of this game, Avalon Hill's Guns of August (GoA) was the standard game for the war. GoA, however, had what seemed to be thousands of counters. It broke the units into divisions and corps, and it was hard to move anything without knocking something over. The variable neutral entry, however, was a nice feature to mix things up. By focusing on armies, PoG has far fewer counters which makes for a neater, easier to play game. The cards offer some variability, but not in the same range as GoA.

The Germans won this war in Fall 1916. They mauled the French. It was a bloodbath. Following a variation I read about on Board Game Geek, I strategically deployed the German 8th Army from the east front to the west. This left a lone German corps to defend against the Russian bear. However, the Russians can not attack German fortresses in the first turn. When they finally did, it was a disaster for Tsar. Meanwhile, the brave British Expeditionary Forces and the Belgians held up the Germans for two turns in Brussels. It looked like the Kaiser had made a mistake in his gamble to strike a knock out blow against the French, but once the BEF was out of the way, the Germans went to work on the French. In the north, the Germans pushed to Amiens and threatened Paris. British troops stabilized the line, but could not push the three entrenched armies out of Amiens. The main German efforts were deployed in the south. Three attacks on Verdun bled the French dry, as every reinforcement was sent to the meat grinder, only to be destroyed. The Germans pushed through the frontier, capturing Belfort, Verdun, Nancy, Dijon, and Bar le Duc. These last two gave the Central Powers their 20 victory points.

Most of the action happened in the west with the British and French hastily building reinforcements and trenches. The Russians could do little to the Austro-Hungarians with few operations points. Once the Germans deployed more forces in the east, the Russians collapsed. Nonetheless, they only captured two Russian victory point cities and the Tsar survived the war. Austria-Hungary mauled Serbia.

Winston Churchill's idea of expanding the war to stretch the Central Powers failed. The British landed at Gallipoli, but the game result was very similar to the real one. With so much going on in the west, the Allies made no headway against the the Ottomans, This is unusual, as the Ottomans have a notoriously fragile glass jaw. Many players have complained that there are too much low-hanging fruit for the Allies in the Ottoman Empire. Italy proved no value to the Allies. And, Romania proved a complete liability as the Bulgarians captured Bucharest and the Austro-Hungarians captured Ploesti.

All this, of course, made me wonder what a settlement would have looked like had the Allies sued for peace in 1916. Would newly re-elected Woodrow Wilson have brokered the peace? France would have probably been strapped with huge reparations. Both England and France would have surrendered some colonial possessions to the Germans. I imagine there would have been some adjustments in the Balkans, including the destruction of Serbia. Belgium would probably have been gobbled up by Germany. While the Tsar survived the war, I imagine that he would have been deposed by the liberals under Kerenesky.

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